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Roche to make cheap cancer drugs in India

26th March 2012

Just days after Indian officials granted a compulsory licence to a local pharmaceutical company to make a cancer drug developed by Germany's Bayer AG, rival Roche of Switzerland has announced plans that will slash the prices of two of its most in-demand cancer drugs for the Indian market.

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Indian patent officials took away Bayer's exclusive rights to its cancer drug Nexavar, saying that the company had not made the life-saving medications affordable to poor Indians.

Now, a local company will manufacture a generic version of the drug at a fraction of the price charged by Bayer.

Roche said this week that it would offer its anti-cancer drugs Herceptin and MabThera at "significantly" lower prices in India.

In a joint venture with the Indian pharmaceutical company Emcure, Roche will make the drug to enable access for the "large majority" of patients who could not otherwise afford it, company spokesman Daniel Grotzky said.

Many Indians have to meet the cost of their own medicines, and the lower cost versions of the drugs would target people who could not afford to pay current prices, he said, adding that Roche will also form a partnership with government agencies to boost access to the drugs.

The monthly bill for a patient taking Herceptin or MabThera currently ranges from US$3,000 to $4,500 at wholesale prices, so the cut-price versions of the drugs would greatly increase the number of patients taking Roche's products, according to Grotzky.

India's decision last week brought into focus a global debate about the affordability of life-saving medicines, especially for cancer. In the area of HIV/AIDS, drug-makers have already cut the prices of their drugs to ensure that patients in poorer countries have access to antiretroviral therapies.

Roche has said in the past that its cancer drugs should cost the same wherever they are sold, and Grotzky would not comment on whether its move in India was a response to the Bayer case or not.

Under intellectual property guidelines set down by the World Trade Organisation, countries are able to grant compulsory licences to generic drug-makers in cases where access to life-saving medicines is made impossible by price or availability. The patent-holder is then paid royalties for the licence by the generic manufacturer.

India's patent office ruled last week that Nevaxar was not reasonably priced for Indians, millions of whom live below the poverty line.

India's Natco will now make the dose at a cost of US$172 per month, compared with the US$5,469 previously charged by Bayer.

Big pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer, GlaxoSmithKline and Novartis have said that while they see huge potential markets in developing countries, they also fear a lack of intellectual property protection.

 

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